Seeds for the future

Alasdair Fagan – Woodland Creation Officer

In a previous blog, on the Year of Green Action, we mentioned the planting of 3,500 trees near Danby by National Park staff and volunteers. Our volunteers form an integral part of the work we are able to do, this is particularly the case with woodland work.

Last year saw the origins of the Acorn Volunteer Group. The task for this Group is to collect tree seed from the ancient woodlands and trees of the North York Moors to then be propagated and grown on at local tree nurseries with the ultimate aim of the trees being used in future woodland creation schemes throughout the area.

We focused in the first year on acorns as the National Park Authority has a bit of a history of acorn collecting and so we already knew some good spots to try. We managed to collect over 25,000 acorns. Going forward we are looking to diversify the tree species we collect to include species such as rowan, elder and wild cherry.

One of the North York Moors' oldest Ancient Oak Trees. Copyright NYMNPA.

So why is collecting tree seeds important?

There are ongoing discussions in the world of woodland and forestry about what is the best approach for new woodland planting – whether it should be young trees grown from seed which has been collected from the local area (‘local provenance’) or trees grown from seed sourced elsewhere in the country e.g. further south.

Local provenance seed has benefits such as being from trees which we know grow well on a kind of site or in a particular area , but seed from a more southerly zone has the potential to be better suited in the future because of an increasingly warming climate.

The predictions for climate change vary in severity based on the potential for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, but what is certain is that our summers will be warmer and drier (this is especially true in the east of the Britain) and our winters will be wetter. This means that the climatic conditions of the places where we are planting trees today to create woodlands could be significantly different in 100 years time. 100 years is not a long time within the lifetime of a woodland. Woodland managers need to consider the effects of their work over these long timescales. Planning now to survive the effects of climate change is essential to give our woodlands the greatest chance of reaching maturity.

Skipster Hagg. When the right site is chosen to plant woodland the rate at which the young saplings grow can be surprising. Copyright NYMNPA.

Ayton Banks. Stitchwort and bluebells growing on a site with newly planted trees. These woodland indicator plants grow on woodland soils and show where woodlands once existed. Copyright NYMNPA.Currently the advice for woodland managers is that the best approach depends on the characteristics of the site proposed. On sites where the woodland soils have remained relatively undisturbed, with intact woodland plant communities – such as bluebells and wood sorrel – planting local provenance trees is still the best choice, particularly if it is adjacent to an existing ancient woodland. However if the site is less sensitive then it makes sense to try and improve the woodland’s chance to withstand the effects of climate change and the resulting pests and disease as much as is possible; making the woodland more ‘resilient’.

This type of resilience is increased by having a higher number of tree species as more diversity means that any one pest or disease is unlikely to have a catastrophic effect on the entire wood. If you also incorporate into this diverse mix of tree species a mix of genetic stock, such as you would get from planting a mixture of trees sourced both locally and from further afield, then this is certain to improve a woodland’s chances of adaptation and survival in the future.

Setting up a seed collecting project is a way to make sure we have some locally sourced trees to plant, including some of the genetics of our oldest living trees. The project is also a great way to include volunteers and give them the opportunity to visit some of the ancient trees and woodlands hidden away in secluded parts of the North York Moors.

One of the many handfuls of acorns that made up the 25,000 that were collected in 2018. Photo credit – Tessa Bunney.

If you think you might like to sign up as an Acorn Volunteer with the National Park Authority then please contact me by email or ring me on 01439 772700.

1 thought on “Seeds for the future

  1. What a wonderful blog! So interesting to hear about all the amazing work being done by the National Park staff and volunteers. A great read and wonderfully written. Best of luck to all the seeds!

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